Moscow Choked by Smoke

Acrid smoke from forest and peat-bog fires east of Moscow shrouded Russia’s capital city in smoke, raising pollution to dangerous levels, delaying at least 50 flights and canceling sport events. So far, 52 people have been killed.

“Extreme fire danger is forecast for many regions.”

Russian Hydrometeorological Center

At least 50 flights were delayed Saturday as visibility at city airports fell to as little as 350 meters this morning. “Visibility is deteriorating,” Sergei Izvolsky, a spokesman for the Federal Air Transportation Agency, says. Adding: “We are not seeing any improvement.”

As many as 140 flights were delayed yesterday, Bloomberg reports.

Carbon monoxide in Moscow’s air rose to more than 6 times the admissible maximum level today and air pollution is worsening, the city’s environmental protection department says on its website.

People should stay indoors, avoid opening windows and use “multi-layer gauze masks” when venturing outside, it says.

Emergency crews are battling 577 fires covering 193,516 hectares across Russia, the Emergency Situations Ministry says on its website today.

So far this year, fires have scorched 751,907 hectares, an area about three times the size of Luxembourg, according to the ministry.

The fires have killed at least 52 people, the Health Ministry informs.

President Dmitry Medvedev has personally donated 350,000 rubles ($11,740) to help those affected by the fires, according to the Kremlin website.

The Russian government have pledged 35 billion rubles in aid to agricultural producers, and 5 billion rubles to rebuild homes destroyed by fires, in addition to 200,000 rubles to each person who loses a property.

Extreme Temperatures

Temperatures as high as 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) will continue to affect central Russia and along the Volga River, where the fires are concentrated, the state Hydrometeorological Center says.

Extreme fire danger is forecast for many regions, the center says.

Moscow’s city center was uncharacteristically empty Saturday after people tried to escape the heat and the smoke by leaving town on Friday evening.

The “unfavorable ecological situation” caused soccer matches scheduled for the weekend in Moscow and the surrounding region to be canceled, Russia’s Football Premier League says in a statement.

A Question of Time

Russia declared emergencies in 28 crop-producing regions because of the ongoing drought.

Agriculture, which VTB Capital estimates accounts for about 4 percent of gross domestic product, is the hardest hit part of the economy with grain yields down 20 percent this year.

Russia, the world’s third-biggest grower of wheat, banned grain exports from Aug. 15 to Dec. 31, after the Agriculture Ministry cut its grain crop forecast to as little as 70 million metric tons from 97.1 million tons last year.

“The effect of the grain shortage has not had a visible effect on consumer prices as yet,” Renaissance Capital’s analysts in Moscow Anton Nikitin and Nikolay Podguzov said in an e-mail, according to Bloomberg.

“It is only a question of time when the change in the consumer price growth reveals these effects.”

900 Fires

Almost nine hundred wildfires are now raging across Russia, with a dense layer of smog thickening around Moscow.

Dozens of flights have been unable to take off due to poor visibility, with many others diverted to alternative destinations.

Face masks are being worn all over the capital as Muscovites struggle with the haze.

Here’s the latest report from Russia Today:

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